Birk gives some thought to a lifetime of collisions

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 1, 2013 - 6:59 AM

Former Viking Matt Birk loves football, but once he's gone, he'll donate his brain to further study the game's side effects.

hide

Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk

Photo: Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

NEW ORLEANS - For a 36-year-old guy at the pinnacle of his professional life, Matt Birk spent an inordinate amount of his Super Bowl week talking about the day he will die.

More specifically, what will become of his brain on the day he dies.

"Terrible pun, but it's a no-brainer," said Birk, who will donate his brain to a Boston University medical school that studies chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that can be caused by repetitive head trauma and has been discovered in several deceased NFL players.

"Once you're gone, you're gone," Birk added. "And if some of your organs or body parts can help somebody else or help further the understanding of the effects of football, then I'm all for it."

The St. Paul native has been banging helmets on football fields since the late 1980s. He played at Cretin-Derham Hall, Harvard, the Vikings for 11 seasons and the Baltimore Ravens for the past four. On Sunday, he'll face the San Francisco 49ers in his first Super Bowl, 14 years after falling a game short as a backup rookie tackle with the 1998 Vikings.

Nothing, Birk said, can happen in Super Bowl XLVII to make him decide that night to retire from the NFL. But he knows the day is coming soon, possibly as early as the upcoming offseason. And, yes, like a lot of his peers, he's worried. Worried about what he's walking toward as he walks away from decades of repeated hits to the head in a sport he has loved his entire life.

"You just don't know, that's the thing," said Birk, who has had three concussions that he knows of since high school. "Yeah, it's scary."

Birk worries when he looks at former players such as Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and how they killed themselves with gun shots to the chest so their brains could be preserved and studied. Both players were found to have high levels of CTE in their brains.

"When you think of suicide, you don't think that someone would think it through like that," Birk said. "They had something wrong with them and they knew it, but they also wanted to contribute their brains to a study."

More than 4,000 former players have now joined together to sue the NFL, claiming the league didn't do enough to protect them from multiple concussions or make them aware of the long-term cognitive effects of head injuries.

Birk admits the numbers and the attention probably causes him to overthink whether he's developing symptoms.

"Sometimes you worry about it, especially if something happens like you can't find your car keys," Birk said. "You think, 'Oh my gosh.' You overreact a little bit. You think, 'Is this from football? Is this why I can't remember why I came into this room?' Of course, it's not. Especially if you're a parent. You have mush brain if you're a parent."

Should parents let kids play?

Speaking of which, even President Obama has weighed in on the hot topic of parenthood and football. He told the New Republic that if he had a son, he isn't so sure he'd let him play football.

Birk disagreed.

"I'll let my sons play when I think the time is right," said Birk, who has six kids. "My personal belief is that tackle football isn't really a grade-school game. ... I have three sons. Once they get to high school, and if I feel like they're physically able to go out there and compete and not put themselves in danger, then yeah, absolutely, they can play. Football teaches a lot of life's most important lessons."

Former Vikings receiver Cris Carter was more upset with what Obama said.

"He's the most powerful man in the free world, but I would tell him to be a little careful on trying to be an expert on everything," said Carter, now an ESPN analyst. "I played 16 years in the National Football League and I didn't have one concussion. What Obama doesn't realize is football's not a game about getting hit. It's a game about not getting hit. That's how you avoid it and that's how you keep playing.

"It is the most popular sport for a reason. You look at some of the other sports. I mean the numbers are horrific in soccer, girls injuries. Do we have a dilemma? Yes. Are we going to get it better? Absolutely. But we do have the best game going. Obama! And I voted for you twice."

Man of principle to the end

Birk never has been afraid to take a stand. He's challenged the NFL to take better care of former players in need. He's argued that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman. He's a pro-life activist. He won the 2011 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his community work.

As he heads into what might well be his final NFL game, Birk knows it won't be long before he moves his family back to the Twin Cities for good. There's a part of him that's still surprised he didn't finish his career as a Viking.

"I guess I kind of thought I would," he said. "But I never knew when my career would end. I'm from there. I was pretty happy. I didn't foresee leaving and never said, 'I gotta leave. I want to leave.'"

Birk missed the last four games of the 2004 season because of a sports hernia. In 2005, he was willing to play through a hip injury, but only if the Vikings guaranteed the remainder of his contract.

"Probably rightfully so, from the Vikings' perspective, they couldn't do it," Birk said. "Thankfully, they didn't and I had that surgery. Since then, I've played seven years and haven't missed a game. I don't think that would have happened had I tried to play through that stuff. My career never would have lasted to where I am right now."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Utah 101 FINAL
Orlando 94
Charlotte 109 FINAL
Philadelphia 91
Brooklyn 91 FINAL
Cleveland 95
Washington 105 FINAL
Miami 103
Minnesota 98 FINAL
Boston 114
Toronto 110 FINAL
Detroit 100
Chicago 103 FINAL
Memphis 97
Portland 129 FINAL
San Antonio 119
LA Clippers 106 FINAL
Denver 109
Oklahoma City 104 FINAL
LA Lakers 103
Tampa Bay 2 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 3
Anaheim 2 FINAL
Ottawa 6
NY Islanders 2 FINAL
Detroit 1
Boston 1 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Dallas 2 FINAL
Calgary 1
Wilberforce 71 FINAL
Youngstown St 92
Jackson State 49 FINAL
Tulane 56
Siena 66 FINAL
Radford 76
Stillman 49 FINAL
Alabama 69
Case Western Reserve 65 FINAL
Bucknell 88
Niagara 62 FINAL
Buffalo 88
SD Christian 46 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 69
Concordia (MI) 60 FINAL
Central Mich 97
Northern Ill 55 FINAL
Dartmouth 58
North Florida 83 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Hiwassee 71 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 91
Tennessee St 54 FINAL
Hampton 66
NC A&T 57 FINAL
Kent State 71
Central Penn College 65 FINAL
Liberty 94
Eastern Ky 72 FINAL
Miami-Florida 44
Northern Ky 83 FINAL
Morehead State 60
Northern Ariz 62 FINAL
Norfolk State 81
MD-Eastern Shore 43 FINAL
Old Dominion 60
St Marys-CA 47 FINAL
St Johns 53
Clemson 45 FINAL
South Carolina 68
Tenn Tech 58 FINAL
Tennessee 61
Washington-MD 46 FINAL
William & Mary 86
Bethune-Cookman 46 FINAL
Mercer 67
Furman 78 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 83
South Dakota St 53 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 49
Milligan 53 FINAL
Lamar 80
LSU-Alexandria 71 FINAL
ULM 76
Southern Utah 57 FINAL
Loyola-Chicago 73
Chattanooga 58 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 68
Seattle 57 FINAL
Minnesota 92
Lipscomb 55 FINAL
Princeton 77
Winthrop 71 FINAL
SE Louisiana 81
Dickinson State 48 FINAL
North Dakota 78
New Orleans 56 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
TX-Pan American 60 FINAL
Creighton 75
Colorado State 85 FINAL
Denver 84
Alabama A&M 49 FINAL
Marquette 83
Ark-Pine Bluff 51 FINAL
Texas Tech 72
Eastern Wash 67 FINAL
California 78
Idaho State 56 FINAL
Utah State 69
Arizona 56 2nd Half 2:42
Texas-El Paso 49
Hawaii 59 2nd Half 18:15
Chaminade 34
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Ohio Valley 33 FINAL
Youngstown St 84
East Tenn St 48 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 61
Cal-Irvine 44 FINAL
Purdue 69
Campbell 63 FINAL
Stetson 76
Jacksonville St 70 FINAL
Charleston Southern 43
Louisiana 64 FINAL
Alcorn State 57
Denver 63 FINAL
Wright State 72
Blue Mountain 30 FINAL
Central Arkansas 71
Texas State 51 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 40
Albany 62 FINAL
Pepperdine 36
TX-San Antonio 53 FINAL
Houston 56
Yale 66 FINAL
Bucknell 73
Northern Colorado 56 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 69
Belmont 86 FINAL
Mercer 83
Massachusetts 66 FINAL
Georgia State 71
George Mason 69 FINAL
Winthrop 57
Portland State 33 FINAL
Princeton 104
UCLA 71 FINAL
Samford 52
Mobile 30 FINAL
Alabama State 66
Nicholls 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 76
Toledo 65 FINAL
Nevada 56
UMass Lowell 48 FINAL
(13) Duke 95
St Marys-CA 49 FINAL
Virginia 62
McNeese State 55 FINAL
Rice 57
McMurry 49 FINAL
Houston Baptist 69
NJIT 62 FINAL
Seton Hall 74
(6) North Carolina 65 FINAL
Maine 36
Lafayette 58 FINAL
Stony Brook 60
Siena 62 FINAL
Binghamton 53
Longwood 56 FINAL
Clemson 72
Savannah State 51 FINAL
Florida State 97
(19) Syracuse 72 FINAL
(9) Baylor 74
Buffalo 68 FINAL
Manhattan 58
Canisius 43 FINAL
Michigan 79
Davidson 66 FINAL
NC State 82
Northern Ky 63 FINAL
Delaware 58
Saint Louis 81 FINAL
Austin Peay 86
(25) DePaul 64 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 98
Ohio U 74 FINAL
La Salle 63
Florida Atlantic 60 FINAL
Long Beach St 85
Miami-Florida 65 FINAL
Tulane 70
Miss Valley St 39 FINAL
Memphis 62
Ark-Pine Bluff 56 FINAL
UAB 65
Bowling Green 58 FINAL
Illinois State 54
Arkansas State 78 FINAL
Missouri State 62
ULM 42 FINAL
Wichita State 57
(16) Oregon State 71 FINAL
Southern Ill 55
Pacific 67 FINAL
New Mexico St 62
No Dakota State 79 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 86
Utah State 92 FINAL
Sacramento St 102
Bethesda (CA) 61 FINAL
Fresno State 83
Utah Valley U 44 FINAL
Montana 68
LSU 78 FINAL
UC Santa Barbara 45
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will Christian Ponder ever be a full-time starter in the NFL?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close